My notion of motherhood turned on its heels and ran away the moment my son was diagnosed with diabetes. I did all I could to prevent harm to my son, Brendon, starting from the time before I conceived him. But nothing I did prevented him from developing Type 1 diabetes.
When my husband and I made the decision to start a family, I began surfing the net, searching for websites that would give me information on how to successfully conceive. I read articles giving advice to take multi-vitamins, eat fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and most importantly, make sure to get enough folic acid to prevent birth defects! No mother wants their baby to have birth defects.
During my pregnancy I continued to eat all of the right foods, and avoided eating the wrong ones. I followed advice on how often to exercise, which moves were best for a pregnant woman, and which were to be avoided. I did everything I was supposed to do to have a healthy pregnancy, which was supposed to provide a healthy baby.
When Brendon was born, he had all ten fingers and toes, his APGAR was 9, and everyone who saw him thought he was the cutest baby in the nursery...no kidding. I succeeded in giving birth to a healthy, handsome baby boy. The effort I put into having a healthy baby paid off. I was well on my way to becoming a good mother.
So it was when, in the ER, Brendon lay on a gurney, limp, seemingly lifeless, with shallow breath and sallow skin that I thought my vibrant, talkative, robust Brendon was gone, and in his place was a boy that I didn’t count on having as a son. Nothing I did to protect him from harm prevented the condition he was in. My mothering failed his health.
I was completely devastated by the condition of my son. I was afraid of the life he was in for, and worried that I wouldn’t be able to prevent the complications that I was sure he was destined for in the form of amputations, stroke, heart attack, and every other possible complication diabetes provides. I felt soulless, like everything I ever knew, thought, and counted on was pulled out from underneath me. I was left with nothing familiar. I had nothing to grip onto that would assure me that my goals and plans for living the life I planned for my family would ever be possible. In other words, I couldn’t predict the future. And the future I imagined always came true because I worked so hard to make it so.
While Brendon was at the hospital for the next seven days, my husband would stay over night with him as I drove back to the house we were living in while waiting to close on the home we had in New York. While driving, I would cry the cry of mourning...mourning the loss of the son I worked so hard to nourish, and nurture. I was angry at what life dealt me. On one of these drives back to the house, I thought, “Why me? “Why is this happening to me?” And it was at that moment that I realized how self-centered I was. How totally unlike a mother I was.
Nothing happened to me. It happened to my son. He’s the one who has diabetes. He’s the one that, ten times a day, has to have the tender skin on his perfect ten fingers pricked to draw blood to test his blood sugars. He’s the one that has to have up to five shots per day of life saving, and hopefully, health preserving insulin injected into his skin. He’s the one who feels like crap when his numbers are too high or too low. He’s the one who will have to deal with this for the rest of his life. I, simply, will be the one to tend to the management of his diabetes until he is out on his own. I, simply, am someone who has to maintain some semblance of routine, so that he can pick up where I left off and carry on for the rest of his life the awesome responsibility of managing diabetes in order to hopefully avoid complications, and to also, simply live.
The morning after my realization of how unlike a mother I was, I returned to the hospital, walked to my son’s room, and I stood at the foot of his bed and looked at the face of a tiny boy dressed in a hospital gown with tubes and machines invading his body. He looked back at me. Neither of us said a word to each other. It was as though my 2 1/2 year old son knew exactly what had to be done.
I looked at him from the perspective of a child. As I stared into his face, I imagined what he needed to see in my own face...in his mother’s face. And what he showed me was that he was scared, so he needed a mother whose face showed him that she was OK which meant that he was OK too. So I showed him a serene, smiling face. Then I listened closely to his inner voice. I imagined what he needed to hear in my own voice...in his mother’s voice. And what he told me was that he was scared, so he needed a mother whose voice told him that she was OK which meant that he was OK too. So I spoke to him with a soothing, matter of fact voice.
That brief, silent exchange revealed to me the true meaning of what a mother is. A mother provides what her child needs, not what she needs to provide her child.